Watch Where You Stick that RFID Tag!

The DOD
RFID mandate
has two basic parts–tag and report. Tagging is  typically done by applying an RFID adhesive label to shipping containers and pallets. Reporting is done through Wide Area Workflow (and is a topic for different blog article). Knowing how and where to stick the RFID label will help the government read the tag at the other end of the line so that non-compliance doesn’t get in the way of the supplier getting paid.

RFID tagging can be done at a unit pack level, at the exterior container level, and at a pallet level.  Shipping containers (loose cartons, shipping crates and other containers that are not palletized) are treated the same as exterior containers, from an RFID perspective. RFID tagging at a unit pack level is not very common at this time, so we are just going to discuss boxes (exterior containers and shipping containers) and pallets.

DOD RFID LabelSome people may get lost because they don’t know the difference between RFID tags and RFID labels. An RFID tag is basically a microchip and an antenna. It’s the chip and the metal thingy that you see if you tear apart an RFID label. The RFID label is an adhesive label with an RFID tag manufactured into the label. The DOD wants an RFID tag on containers and pallets. The DOD Supplier decides if that RFID tag will be a new label which is separate from the other labels that you put on the boxes and pallets, or if the RFID tag will be embedded into an existing label. Let’s look at these two scenarios:

Separate RFID Label

  • Each Box has Exterior Container Label + RFID Label = 2 Labels per Box
  • Each Pallet has Military Shipping Label (MSL) + RFID Label = 2 Labels per Box

Embedded RFID Label

  • Each Box has Exterior Container Label with embedded RFID Tag = 1 Label per Box
  • Each Pallet has Military Shipping Label (MSL) with embedded RFID Tag = 1 Label per Box

When you use embedded RFID labels, you use software and a printer that knows how to write the proper data to the RFID tag (which is embedded in the label) at the same time that the face of the label is printed with human-readable and barcode data. When you use separate RFID labels, it doesn’t matter what is printed on the face of the label, since your Mil-Std 129 human readable and barcode data are printed on separate labels. When using a separate RFID label, it is a commonly-accepted practice to print on the face of the label the same data that is encoded to the RFID tag.

The pros and cons of the two approaches:

Separate RFID Label

  • No change to labeling process. Just stick on an additional RFID label right beside your existing labeling. Works well with pre-encoded RFID tags.
  • More labels to apply, and to apply to the correct box or pallet.
  • More labels to buy.

Embedded RFID Label

  • Requires change to labeling process. Must have software and hardware that knows how to print and encode the RFID labels.
  • Fewer labels to buy and to apply.
  • Easier to automate the process of reporting the RFID data to WAWF without having to type them into a web browser.

Where do you stick them?

Individual Shipping Containers and Palletized Unit Loads

RFID tags that are integrated with other shipping labels should follow the guidelines for placement of those shipping labels. (Mil-Std 129, para 4.9.2.1.a) RFID tags that are not integrated with other shipping labels should be placed within the same boundary area as prescribed for address labels.  (Mil-Std 129, para 4.9.2.1.b)  In addition, RFID tags should be placed where there is a minimum risk of damage, easy access to barcode symbols, and
highest potential for successful RFID reads. RFID tags should not be placed over a carton seam nor should sealing tape or bands be placed over the tag that interfers with reading of barcodes or the RFID tag. RFID tags should not overlap other RFID tags. RFID tags for pallets should not be attached directly to an exterior container. (Mil-Std 129, para 4.9.2.1)

Exterior Containers within a Palletized Unit Load

The RFID tag should be affixed at a suitable location where there is a minimum risk of damage and the highest potential for successful passive RFID tag interrogation. (Mil-Std 129, para 4.9.2.2)

So whether you chose to use separate RFID labels or embedded RFID labels, be careful where you stick them to make sure you comply.

Learn more about Mil-Std-129 RFID Labeling and MIL-Comply RFID Labeling.